Today's news

November 7, 2006

British talent deserting universities
Universities will be dominated by foreign academics soon unless more British graduates are persuaded to stay in higher education, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge has said. Alison Richard - who has a quarter of her staff and more than half of her postgraduates from overseas - raises the prospect of universities depending increasingly on foreign academics for regeneration. The situation across the country is most acute in science, technology and mathematics, as fewer British students are recruited to undergraduate courses, which restricts the pool going on with postgraduate study. Professor Richard’s comments are echoed by Universities UK, which cautions that the danger of relying wholly on non-British researchers in some subjects is not only that they go home, but also that the lack of home-grown talent spirals downwards into less interest in schools.
The Times

Conference hears of need to preserve specialist colleges
Specialised colleges and universities risk being swallowed up by larger institutions if government funding does not recognise their strengths, a conference was told today. Pamela Taylor, the chairwoman of GuildHE - the group representing higher education colleges - told its annual conference that specialist colleges had a unique role in higher education that needed to be preserved. Ms Taylor said: "Distinctive and specialist higher education institutions make a major contribution to diversity. They offer an alternative for many students to studying in one of the large, general institutions. Some of them offer subject specialisms not available elsewhere.”
The Guardian

Scientists seek permission for human-cow embryos
Scientists in Britain have asked for permission to create "hybrid" embryos from animal eggs and human cells for medical research into some of the most intractable diseases. The aim is to create a cloned embryo by fusing a nucleus from a human skin cell with a cow's egg that has had its own cell nucleus removed. Genetically, the embryo would be 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent cow which would, in effect, make it a human embryo and therefore subject to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Two teams of researchers at Newcastle University and King's College London yesterday submitted a joint application for a research licence to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the body which polices the Act.
The Independent, The Scotsman, The Daily Telegraph

Scientists unveil plans for eco-friendly plane
Plans for a silent, energy-efficient plane which could take to the sky in less than 25 years' time were unveiled yesterday by scientists. On a typical flight the plane, which has been designed by scientists from Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will achieve the same kind of fuel efficiency as a Toyota Prius. The scientists behind the plane, currently known as SAX-40 (Silent Aircraft eXperimental), are Professor Edward M Greitzer from MIT and Professor Ann P Dowling of Cambridge University, the lead researchers on the Silent Aircraft Initiative. This is a collaboration between scientists and partners including BAA, Rolls-Royce and Boeing set up to develop "a conceptual design for an aircraft whose noise was almost imperceptible outside the perimeter of an airfield in an urban environment".
The Guardian

Potholers discover UK's biggest cave
Potholers have discovered the UK's biggest known cave - which is almost as high from floor to ceiling as the London Eye - after following clues left by a Cambridge student in the 18th century. The cave in Derbyshire's Peak District, known as Titan, is estimated to be a massive 459ft (140m) from floor to ceiling, beating the previous record holder, Gaping Gyhll in the Yorkshire Dales, by almost 200ft (60m). It was discovered by Dave Nixon and a group of Peak cavers near another huge cavern, Leviathan, after he found an old account in a university library. The paper, written in 1793 by James Plumtree, described a network of caves which went beyond the well-known Speedwell cave system near Castleton.
The Times, The Independent, The Scotsman

Solved: the perfect way to cut a cake
The art of cake-cutting requires great care and skill to ensure no party is left feeling cheated or envious. Now, however, parents and party hosts can approach the task with a little more confidence - mathematicians claim to have found the perfect way to cut a cake and keep everyone happy. “The problem of fair division is one of the oldest existing problems. The cake is a metaphor for any divisible object where people value different parts differently,” explains Christian Klamler, at the University of Graz, Austria, who solved the problem with fellow mathematicians Steven Brams and Michael Jones. According to Klamler, for any division to be acceptable, it must ideally be equal among all parties, envy-free so that no one prefers another’s share and equitable, where each places the same subjective value on their share.
New Scientist

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